The Secret Life of the American Airport Worker

Source: Melissa Chadburn, Jezebel, November 25, 2014

I’ve spent the last six months investigating the lives of America’s airport workers: the wheelchair pushers, the cabin cleaners, the baggage handlers, the people who will—instead of heading back to their own family members—assist ours as we travel this week. If you ask airport workers what they’re doing for the holidays, or any holiday, they’ll nearly always respond that they’re working. What they never say is that they’re doing so for almost nothing. …

…At this particular airport the cabin cleaners get around the tarmac by way of a cargo van. They take themselves and their carts filled with cleaning supplies onto the van; there are seat belts, but nobody bothers because they are squished, sometimes doubled up. There’s no air conditioning on the van either; the knobs have been tampered with by the supervisor. … They need to do their job within 10 minutes. Sometimes more than one plane lands at a time. There’s a lot of pressure to do the work fast; if a flight is delayed, the company has to pay a fine to the airlines, and the lead cabin cleaner is held responsible. I met a young woman who was pregnant and cleaning cabins. I asked her if they offered any accommodations. Her sister chimed in that she’d been told that “being pregnant does not make you special. If you cannot do the job just stay home.”…

….In the United States, nearly all airports are publicly owned. Their status as quasi-government entities makes them governed by a set of laws that makes it nearly impossible to organize a labor union amongst the workers, who even among themselves will agree that the passengers and their safety are everyone’s primary interest. But what this means is that the people who carry our airports are the ones at the corners that get cut. You won’t be surprised to know that there is a high turnaround in this employment sphere. Each year the employers bid into a new contract with the airport. The lowest bidder wins. And labor is often the cost that gets cut…..